In 2001, pianist Vedrana Subotic and violinist David Porter were discussing music over dinner with their active concert-going friends Rachel and Rocco Navarro. Rachel happened to say, “I would love to hear you play more chamber music,” so Porter scheduled a few performances. The four friends became the four founders who then became the board of directors. They came up with a name, Subotic freehanded a logo with an eyeliner brush, and Intermezzo became a concert series almost immediately. Subotic was appointed musical director and Porter became president.
“Mostly, we thought it would be fun to play chamber music with our friends,” says Subotic. “The first year we did three concerts, but it quickly grew to a five-concert season because there were a lot of people who wanted to play chamber music.” One of her responsibilities as musical director is programming. The series has a mission to feature “superb local performers, bold programming interweaving the familiar, the novel and the obscure, with commissioned works by living composers, as well as a surprise here and there.” Each year, she likes to identify a theme for the series, as well as a theme for each concert. Last year, for example, storytelling was the season’s theme with each concert including at least one piece with a narrative or biographical element.
The quality programming is definitely what the audiences come back for, but the surprises Intermezzo throws in also endear the audience to the organization. It isn’t uncommon for the musicians to take the stage to play a romantic sonata, but first launch into a short, unexpected contemporary work, with no warning or explanation. Fortunately, their fans have come to expect a shenanigan or two. Whether it’s having a pizza delivered onstage or organizing a stunt where the horn player falls on his horn and breaks it in the process, Intermezzo isn’t afraid to have fun with their performances. “David inherited a horrible taste of punnery from his father,” Subotic says with a laugh. “And with puns, the worse they are the better they are.” Porter put a concerted effort into naming each concert. In 2006, he playfully based the concert titles on film titles. For example, From Russia with Love featured works by Russian composers, and Portrait of a Lady presented music composed exclusively by women. “One year he did jokes on recession; jokes about downsizing and rightsizing,” Suboitc says. But after 10 years or so the series decided to forgo the titles and just number the concerts. “Believe me, after the ones David had done, no one could do better.”
Intermezzo likes to have fun, but that doesn’t mean they don’t take their season seriously. “We pride ourselves on well-prepared and well-rehearsed music,” says Subotic. “It’s a very high level of ensemble work and the musicians have high expectations of themselves.” Intermezzo isn’t afraid to take risks either. With a loyal audience, Porter and Subotic have been very successful in programming works that are challenging — not only for the musicians, but for the audience as well.
In 2014, they programmed Kassandra by Iannis Xenakis. Tenor Brian Stucki was tasked with playing the role of both Cassandra and the Elders. “The part of Cassandra is performed in falsetto and the elders in chest voice” explains Stucki. “The whole thing is mostly sprechstimme notation.” Sprechstimme is German for “speech voice” and the composer notes the rhythm and pitch in the score so the singer knows when to raise and lower the voice. “It was one of the more frightening performances of my life,” he admits. Subotic joked that they thought of locking the doors once the piece started so the audience couldn’t leave. But people stayed, and they were mesmerized. “I had no idea what the audience would make of it, but the only way to do it was to just completely commit.”
Subotic states the series has grown up over the years, and she believes the audience has grown up with them. In fact, she points to one audience member in particular who did grow up with them. Salt Lake Acting Company’s Alexis Baigue has been attending Intermezzo concerts from the beginning. “I first learned of Intermezzo Chamber Music Series on the sidewalk outside Abravanel Hall. En route to hear Utah Symphony, I was handed a flier announcing Intermezzo's first season. I think I attended all of that summer's concerts. Since then, I have missed just a few, and only because I had to work" (he'll be missing this summer's performances because he's in the Utah Shakespeare Festival's performances of Henry V —see our review page 6—and Much Ado About Nothing).
“When he started coming, he didn’t know anything about chamber music” Subotic explains, “but he loved the vibe.” He read the program notes and every year became more and more knowledgeable.” She didn’t realize Intermezzo was such a journey for him until he talked to her about it. She decided she wanted Baigue to be part of their concert season. “We ended up having Alexis and two others from SLAC read poetry.” That idea is what drove the storytelling theme for last year’s season. Subotic chose musical selections that she felt would lend themselves to being paired with a literary selection. Although the audience showed up aware of the musical program, the literary works chosen by the actors were a surprise for the audience. Baigue chose Brahms’ Trio for horn, violin and piano. “The poetry of Walt Whitman exudes the same sensuality, gusto, despair, and ebullience in each of Brahms' four movements,” says Baigue. “Selecting a poem that perfectly matched the dynamics of each piece required me to read many aloud while listening to each movement; the poetry had to evoke the same sensations and movement as the music, like choreographing dance to a commissioned score.” He repeatedly read Brahms' Trio while listening to various recordings. “Finally, the four perfect poems became clear: Whitman's "When I Heard at the Close of the Day", "One Hour to Madness and Joy", "Good-Bye My Fancy!", and "Song at Sunset.” The concept was well-received by the audience and the critics. The Salt Lake Tribune’s Catherine Reese Newton noted that “the intimate Vieve Gore Concert Hall was scarcely big enough to contain [Alexis’] exuberance.”
That performance proved to be a programmatic success, and the audience can expect more creative collaborations in the future. The 2016 season has required an extraordinary commitment on Subotic’s part to make everything happen. David Porter stepped down as president and left the series in her able hands. To celebrate their 15th anniversary, Intermezzo’s theme is to look back at what they’ve accomplished over the years. This season is bookended by memorable performances they’ve programmed before. The other three concerts have some exciting elements audiences can look forward to. Subotic thinks of the music first, and then who she knows might be a good match to perform it. “I’ll just sit down and let loose in my head, what do I want to program, who do I want to bring back, who do I want to include” she explains. “Sometimes I ask the performers I have a relationship with what they’d like to play.” A lot of the performers play for the Utah Symphony, but each year she tries to engage new musicians who move to town or others she hasn’t worked with before. The second concert this season takes place on July 11 and features an unconventional performer. Subotic needed a harpsichord player, but finding one in Salt Lake proved to be a challenge. But then she remembered Jeff Olpin, who earned a Master’s degree in performance from Yale, but became a radiologist. “He’s one of those fascinating people who is good at everything he does,” Subotic says. “His lifelong dream was to build his own harpsichord, so in 2002 he built a replica of a Pascal Taskin. I called and asked him about this and he said, ‘But I’m a doctor.’ I told him it doesn’t matter. It’s a perfect opportunity to include him in the season; it’s a perfect match of music and person and opportunity.”
If Intermezzo were to choose a theme for the past 15 years, “opportunity” would be a suitable choice. Intermezzo was born on opportunity— before the Deer Valley Music Festival, there wasn’t much going on in the classical music scene during the summer, and Intermezzo took the opportunity to fill that void; it continues to provide an opportunity for professional musicians who are used to playing in a large orchestra to stand out a little more, and for audiences to come inside from the usual outdoor music festivals and hear chamber music in an intimate and accessible manner. It also jumps at opportunities: opportunities to pair musicians with the perfect scores, opportunities to introduce different artistic disciplines to one another, and opportunities to have a little fun in the process.
Dance Review: Salt Lake City
No Vacation for Dance
RW's Insterstice and summer dance preview
Friday night, Ririe-Woodbury continued a multiyear partnership with UMOCA by presenting Interstice, a performance installation featuring choreography by Artistic Director Daniel Charon inside of Jennifer Seely’s exhibition “Supporting Elements.” In the first two summers of this three-year partnership, the dancing, while compelling, was forced into the open spaces between gallery walls, but this summer, due to a particularly interesting pairing and the intimacy of the museum’s Street Gallery, seems to have found more potent placement.
Seely’s work effectively removes art in order to create it; cutting into, and removing, wall space rather than installing materials on top of it. Small windows reveal concealed UMOCA storage spaces, where dancers periodically emerge to complete repetitive tasks: arranging black threads on silver wires, playing Solitaire, hanging fairy lights, changing clothes, and grasping at invisible objects. If someone peeked through the walls they would see old binders and boxes—dating back to when the facility was named Salt Lake Art Center—alongside the supportive construction materials that make up the particular architecture of the space.
This summer, as in the past, it’s impossible to predict audience response. Audiences are often comfortable participating in dance from a (seated) distance but it is anyone’s guess whether they are compelled to investigate a performance more intimately and, if so, how long their attention will last. In an exhibition defined by banality of materials, that sensation is compounded by a purposeful lack of parameters (read: the dance has no apparent beginning, middle or end).
RW company member Alex Bradshaw performed in part of Interstice, often balancing precariously out of the windows. With RW alum Brad Beakes, she will present a new collaboration alongside local cellist Eleanor Cox and guitarist Jon Yerby. On July 28 their work, “BRACE,” can be seen at Art 270 at either 8 or 9:30pm (admission is free but RSVPs are required for the limited seating event). Based on reviews of Bradshaw and Yerby’s previous show at Art 270, audiences can expect to see the development of virtuosic pairings (both physical and musical) inside of limited space.
Collaborations between UMOCA and RW began under the tenure of former Artistic Director Charlotte Boye-Christensen whose new company, NOW-ID, also presents new work this summer. Just last week her collective of national dancers and international musicians convened in Salt Lake City to begin the development EXODUS, which will premiere at the Marriott Center for Dance July 27-29. Boye-Christensen is working with award-winning theater director Rolf Heim, Danish mezzosoprano Nana Bugge Rasmussen, and Bass-Baritone Jakob Bloch Jespersen with a score that features references to Danish folk songs that are only partially translated into English. The dancers include previous collaborators Tara McArthur and Katharine Lawrence alongside Adrian Fry. Lawrence and Fry are both current company members of Ballet West and McArthur, an RW alum, is best remembered for a unique power punctuated by calm. The continued combination of ballet and modern trained performers indicates the potential for idioms of contemporary ballet to continue centering the material.
Boye-Christensen’s performance investigates migration and features several European artists who may have unique perspectives on global dialogues regarding migration. But, migration in relationship to performance is also considered by RDTs summer season as well as ample local festivals. RDT has commissioned Danielle Agami (ate9 dANce cOMPANY) to create a new work for their 2017 season. While she’s in town, audiences can see the Israeli-based choreographer’s works “Vickie” and “Exhibit B” in a one-night-only show July 15. Like other Israeli choreographers recently commissioned by RDT, the work explores cultural conflicts.
In the festival scene, Living Traditions and the Utah Arts Festival have again supported the presentation and preservation of cultural forms through exchange with a broad public. Craft Lake City and Urban Arts Festival are two festivals yet to come that challenge what art and performance should look like by narrowing the scope to urban and DIY culture, both topics certainly at the heart of cultural modes of performance which tend to be found on the periphery of a state valuing concert dance. Guests of both festivals, hosted this year at the Gallivan Center in Salt Lake City, can see (and learn) the lineage of breakdancing, West African and Afro-Brazilian forms, among others.
One group found in nearly all the festivals above is Samba Fogo. Just finishing their Carnaval celebration at the Fallout they have spent the summer offering youth education programs teaching Afro-Brazilian percussion and dance alongside their year round offerings including open capoeira classes. The success of Samba Fogo is at least in part due to co-directors Lorin Hansen and Mason Aeschbacher’s consideration of the multiple ways they can create and serve communities. Through their work in Samba, they develop multigenerational enjoyment of and participation in dance, music and art-making.
The loveDANCEmore mobile dance series, “On Site,” concludes summer dance offerings with an August 15 concert at the Orem City Scera Pool. In addition to free admission to the pool, audiences can see new works by six artists, primarily from Utah County, who are supported by the new Orem CARE grant program to share work in non-conventional dance spaces. The pool project takes a cue from groups mentioned above by identifying a set of community needs (artists with limited stages, audiences overwhelmed by lengthy university productions) but also links up with national groups who have attempted the same.
While summer is traditionally considered the off-season for the performing arts, closing the doors of theaters and concert halls can actually spur creativity, pushing choreographers and dancers to find new ways to create. And one hopes it will help find new audiences as well, whether at a festival, pool or art museum.
Ririe-Woodbury Dance Company in Interstice at UMOCA.